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text and photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

The father of aikido in Thailand

It is true so I have to admit it: even though I have trained in aikido for almost a decade, even though I have participated in seminars with some of the highest level teachers the art has to offer, even though a big part of my professional life has been writing about martial arts and even though for the last few years I have been living in Japan, I hadn’t heard of Fukakusa Motohiro before I took the assignment for this article. And I have to also admit that going to the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center in Yoyogi that day I was a little worried about what I was going to see; besides seeing Fukakusa sensei’s class from up close (i.e. on the tatami) we were also going to interview him. That for the coverage of this particular event “Hiden’s” editor-in-chief the knowledgeable Mr. Shiozawa was to join my colleague, Mr. Ogawa and me made me wonder even more. Who was this man?

Doing the necessary preparation before going to the event I started getting some glimpses of why this man is important. Very important. Having started aikido in the early 1960s, when the Aikikai was still under the guidance of the art’s founder, Ueshiba Morihei and with many of the greats still teaching and training there, he was chosen to carry out a very difficult task: to disseminate the art to Thailand, a country with a martial art of its own (i.e. Muay Thai) very well rooted to its natives’ consciousness. And to do that with only three years of training aikido and a second dan as credentials! Of course those three years were spent in the presence of giants and the second dan was signed and handed by Ueshiba Morihei himself but still I can’t even contemplate the magnitude and the difficulty of the task.

And he did it! Going through a variety of difficulties, he managed to establish aikido not only in Thailand (which is still he base and which, after fifty years he has every reason to call his “home”) but in the greatest Southeast Asia. And since 2008, to give this network he created an institutional base: the Aikido of South-East Asian Nations Fellowship (ASEANF) which besides Thailand also includes dojo from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam; this organization was part of a dream the man Fukakusa sensei considers his teacher and the man who sent him to Thailand in the first place: late Tamura Nobuyoshi shihan, 8th dan Aikikai (1933-2010).

Through Fukakusa sensei’s hard work, and through networking between Japan and Thailand (in which the Aikikai played a significant role), his first team of aikidoka managed to move from the College of Physical Education (at the National Stadium of Bangkok) to their own dojo, the Renbukan and from there to create a strong cluster of six dojo all over the country. What is more important was that even in a country with such a long and strong tradition in a martial art very different from aikido, Fukakusa sensei managed to make aikido appear interesting to the eyes of police and army officers and to demonstrate the art to the King of Thailand; this happened in 1982, in the opening of the Thai-Japan Youth Center in Din Daen.

Today Fukakusa Motohiro (or Khun Somchai as is known among the Thai) sensei holds the 8th dan from the Aikikai; a fair compensation for his 50 years of hard work in Thailand and the broader area. Furthermore he travels extensively and teaching seminars not only in his sphere of influence, so to speak, but as far as Ukraine, France, Romania, Hungary, and Israel. All this while still retaining his posts as Chairman of ASEANF, President of Aikido Association of Thailand and of course teacher to his own dojo, the Renbukan. Most web sites label him “the father of aikido in Thailand” –and judging from his accomplishments, this is probably an understatement!

The rapid moves of a good kendoka at his peak

The above were enough for me to understand why this man is indeed important for aikido and the Aikikai. Now the question was what about his presence on the tatami? After all, astonishing as a person’s achievements might be in the so called “politics”, this is a martial art and the only real test is the one that one takes (and hopefully passes!) every time they step on the tatami. I know this might sound somehow inappropriate for an aikido practitioner who has not only been training for 50 years but who is also an 8th dan holder but I have been in the martial arts long enough myself and I have seen enough practitioners (teachers and students) of various arts not living up to their ranks to know better than be impressed just by a title, however high this title be. 

As soon as the warm up (the standard warm up seeing in Aikikai dojo all over the world) was over and the actual teaching began though, all the doubts I might had vanished. This man was the real deal –he seemed to own the tatami (not an easy feat, considering there where at least 400 people up there) and he could grab and hold the interest of even the most skeptical practitioner. Always with a smiling face he would wander around the training pairs and offer his insights by allowing everyone a hands-on experience on what he meant during his teaching; and whenever he saw that a student couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand his point he would repeat the technique again and again playfully, revoking images of Ueshiba Morihei at his best.

Fukakusa sensei’s aikido was not “spectacular”; it was basic aikido as seen from the Doshu or many other teachers. But it was strong, it was self-assured and well-balanced and it contained everything that characterizes good aikido. Going through the basic aikido techniques (ikkyo, kote gaeshi, irimi nage, kokyu nage etc.) he demonstrated all the basic elements: impeccable tai sabaki, perfect timing, good kuzushi and stability while in motion –all that regardless of the size or the level of his partner. I can’t tell with certainty how many seminar participants he trained with in the one hour his class lasted but I didn’t see him lacking these qualities at any moment.

One thing that really impressed me in Fukakusa Motohiro’s aikido (and one that took me completely by surprise, at that) was his speed, especially when demonstrating atemi, the various strikes that are part of any good aikido technique. Even though he is in an admirably good condition, especially considering his age (he is 70 years old) his punches were as fast as would be expected from someone less than half his age: he reminded me the rapid moves of a good kendoka at his peak or, more appropriate maybe, of a good young boxer. I am not sure if this is the case, but I am guessing this might have to do with the fact that for many years he has had to prove his aikido to people very well versed with one of the most relentless boxing styles known to man –again, I am talking about the Thai boxers that (as he told as in his interview later) were invariably among his students.

Relaxation, awareness of openings and natural stance

My colleagues in “Hiden” asked me what I would single out as the three main elements of Fukakusa sensei’s class. And this would be hard since, from an aikidoka’s standpoint (and I do still consider myself enough of an aikidoka to say this!) there must have been at least a dozen important insights in the one hour his class lasted. If I was forced to pick the three more important though, I would say (I) relaxation, (II) awareness of openings and (III) natural stance; rethinking of his class as I write this, I feel that everything he did and taught that day in Yoyogi included those elements and was supported by them. Furthermore, I believe he himself considered those three very important because he emphasized them whenever he had the chance, both in his teaching and when he trained with individual seminar participants.

Relaxation is a funny thing: almost all aikido teachers preach it but very often what passes for relaxation is actually limpness: an almost dead condition lacking muscular tone and depriving the aikidoka of all choices. Fukakusa sensei also emphasized it, sometimes comically illustrating the stiff shoulders many have while performing aikido, but what was most important that he demonstrated it in his movement while executing any technique. His relaxation was anything but limp: it had all the nerve needed to control his partner and perform the technique he wanted but also the softness necessary to change his body position according to the partner’s reaction; in other words, he was able to dominate the whole situation in the most natural way.

His demonstration of how to be aware of openings is something that, again, I will attribute to the interaction he must have had with people who have practiced Thai boxing. Every time he picked a partner, he would point out their openings with one of the extremely fast atemi I mentioned before, underlining something that is sometimes missing in aikido: the sense that this is a martial art and that the partner is supposed to be an opponent who will exploit any opening. Without preaching disharmony and lack of cooperation, Fukakusa sensei stressed more than enough that a technique that starts (or continues) with openings is a technique lacking awareness and, consequently, that the result will be weak and prone to failure. I really hope all the participants remember this important lesson; if they did I’m certain their aikido will be much better.

The third point, the one about natural stance is also a controversial matter in aikido circles: many aikido instructors seem to worship the hanmi no kamae and among them there is a big majority that overdoes the positioning of the feet in a way that would seem unnatural to most exponents of other martial arts (a well-known American aikido teacher I know, calls that “aiki feet”!) I don’t know if Fukakusa sensei’s background in judo (he practiced judo since he was 11 years old and continued until the time he went to college and found out aikido) is responsible for his… standpoint but in his teaching independence from a fixed stance was one of the main motifs; the point he made quite a few times was that adherence to a particular stance limits the options and can result to a stiff body and mind and to inability to adjust to the demands of the confrontation.

These are the technical points. But there is a point I would also like to make and one that seems to me of equal importance: Fukakusa sensei’s comportment during his class. Especially for someone putting so much emphasis in practical aspects of aikido, his attitude was so playful and joyful that made training seem like a game among friends –and it accomplished that without missing the critical aspect of the real and the martial. For me, this might have been the most important teaching of all and one that I believe managed to get through to seminar participants in the most direct way: through feeling the atmosphere sensei created during the one hour his class lasted.

The East: still a mystery

As I finish this small account of Fukakusa Motohiro’s class, I realize once again how inadequate words are to express a physical discipline like the martial arts and even more so, the way this discipline is illustrated by an exponent who has been training, teaching and refining his art for 50 years. I also realize how people (both in the West but, I suspect, also in Japan) are limited by their own perspective: I know for a fact that there are thousands of aikidoka in Europe and the United States who, like me, have never heard of Fukakusa sensei even though they know very well other teachers with much less experience than him. And it is sad that in this day and age, when communication technology has managed to bring everything to our TVs and our computer screens, the East remains for many people a mystery. Even in the world of martial arts, where the people involved have a particular interest for the countries that gave birth to the arts, gems like Fukakusa Motohiro haven’t found the recognition they rightfully deserve from the entirety of the people involved. And it is a shame because their teaching, their insights and their whole course through life contain vital lessons for all of us.

Related article:International Aikido Federation’s 11th International Aikido Congress: Christian Tissier’s class

About the author

Grigoris Miliaresis has been practicing Japanese martial arts since 1986. He has dan grades in judo, aikido and iaido and has translated in Greek over 30 martial arts’ books including Jigoro Kano’s “Kodokan Judo”, Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life-Giving Sword”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings”, Takuan Shoho’s “The Unfettered Mind” and Donn Draeger’s “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan” trilogy. Since 2007 his practice has been exclusively in classic schools: Toda-ha Buko-ryu under Ellis Amdur in Greece and Kent Sorensen in Japan and, since 2016, Ono-ha Itto-ryu under 18th headmaster, Yabuki Yuji.
http://about.me/grigorismiliaresis

text and photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

A charming man

“Is there something you would like me to ask sensei Tissier?” I asked my Japanese colleague from “Hiden” while we were drinking coffee (or, in my case, tea) before we entered the sports hall of the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center for the French shihan’s seminar; the reason being that I was supposed to be the one talking with him after the seminar was over (not that there was any need of course because Christian Tissier’s Japanese is fine –but we’ll come to that later). His reply was: “I would like to know why he is so popular”, a question that makes perfect sense but which a Japanese probably wouldn’t easily ask for fear of not being considered impolite. Apparently me not being Japanese made things fine!

It is a legitimate question: even in Japan, where top grade aikido teachers are in abundance, there are few Western names that carry a certain weight –and Christian Tissier’s is certainly among them. And even if someone doesn’t know that, a look at the International Aikido Federation’s 11th Aikido Congress and Seminar list of names for the seminar will reveal it: out of the 20 classes being offered that week with names literally starting and ending with “Ueshiba” (waka sensei Ueshiba Mitsuteru and Third Doshu Ueshiba Moriteru respectively) and including some of the best the Honbu Dojo and the Japanese Aikikai world has to offer, there were only two non-Japanese: Australian Tony Smibert and Christian Tissier.

Even though having being born with two years separating them, having started aikido at almost the same time, having attained the rank of the 7th dan and the title of shihan and having achieved similar goals (basically one could say that what Tissier sensei accomplished in France, Smibert sensei accomplished in Australia, following the legacy of his teacher, late 8th dan shihan Sugano Seiichi) even people who don’t know Smibert sensei do at least know of Tissier. What makes this even more spectacular is that especially for Japan, his base (Paris, France) is very far –and I don’t mean only in kilometers! Still, his reputation is well established even here and judging from what we saw on the tatami before, during and after his class, the seminar made it even stronger.

Christian Tissier’s journey on the path of aikido started very early when he was only 11 years old –first with compatriot Jean-Claude Tavernier and then with Nakazono Mutsuro (1918-1994) a unique and multi-faceted teacher and student of Ueshiba Morihei who went to France in 1961, only one year before young Tissier decided to take up the art that would prove to be the field where he would shine. By 1968 and at the very young age of 17 he was already a 2nd dan and with a very strong desire to come to Japan, something that he managed to do just one year later. For someone with so big a passion for aikido the travel to Japan was inevitable as was the fact that only six months weren’t going to satisfy him; the year would be 1976, when he decided to return to France then holder of the 4th dan in his art.

The years of Christian Tissier in Japan have been well documented: his relationship with Yamaguchi Seigo, Saotome Mitsugi and Osawa Kisaburo, all legends of the Aikikai and above all with the second Doshu, Ueshiba Kishomaru as well as his incessant thirst for more aikido that made him improvise to extend his stay in Japan (among other things working as a model and as a teacher of the French language). And outside aikido, his studying of the Japanese language Sophia University, his training in kickboxing at the famous Meijiro Gym with Shima Mitsuo and Fujiwara Toshio and his experimenting with various other martial arts, among which Kashima Shin Ryu with Inaba Minoru.   

Equally well documented –at least in Europe- is his return to France, his opening of the dojo “Le Cercle Christian Tissier” one of the biggest dojo in the continent, his contribution in the creation of the Fédération Française Aïkido, Aïkibudo et Affinitaires (FFAAA) or French Federation of Aikido, Aikibudo and Affiliated Arts, one of the two great bodies governing aikido in France which numbers over 35,000 members, his constant travelling for seminars, his books, his superb demonstrations of the art in France, his promotion to 5th, 6th and 7th dan (in 1981, 1986 and 1998 respectively, the latter personally handed to him by Ueshiba Kisshomaru himself) up to his  commendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan this past July for his contribution to the dissemination of aikido in his country.

Incredible as it might seem, all these accomplishments seem to disappear when someone has the opportunity to actually meet Christian Tissier, either on the tatami or outside because any thoughts about his history gets lost in the shadow of his charm; I know it is an unusual word to use when talking about a martial arts teacher but since the first time I saw him (I was fortunate enough to having attended one of his seminars in Greece) this was the main thing that came to my mind: this man is charming. He is not dominating but he has a strange way of making you feel drawn to him both when executing an aikido technique and when talking to him. And in my opinion this comes from being always relaxed and at complete ease; needless to say this is what makes his aikido extraordinary as well.

“Cancel”, “equalize”and “limit”

The one hour he had in his disposal was one of the best aikido classes I have seen and at the same time one of the most entertaining; it was almost as if watching a top class actor performing and combining a set script with adlibbed parts according to what his partners where doing each time. Often laughing and joking but always serious and in impeccable control of the situation he explained principles and not techniques, something rather unusual in the aikido world where most teachers tend to go for the latter, and particularly the basics, especially when they have to deal with a class so big and so diverse (in Tissier sensei’s class there were about 600 people attending and as in all classes of the event the crowd included everyone –from beginners to some of the highest level instructors from all over the world).

Still, this is a trend among Western teachers, particularly the most experienced ones (and they rarely get more experienced than Tissier who is being doing this thing for 50 years!): finding the common ground of aikido techniques and using Ueshiba Morihei’s thinking as a starting point, they come up with the guiding “rules” behind the techniques and by teaching that they allow students apply these rules to all the possibilities that might occur on the mat. Of course the basic techniques are always there and Tissier sensei was quick to point that out in our conversation after the seminar: “We all work on the same techniques”, he pointed out “but eventually, as we evolve and become better at this, we create our own aikido much in the way musicians become creative after having repeated their basic material like scales over and over again. The basics are the same but with time each practitioner’s aikido will be different and this diversity is one of the strong points of aikido”.

Asked about which points he would underline in his teaching that day, Tissier sensei summarized his class in three words: “cancel”, “equalize” and “limit”, all referring not only to the way tori would receive uke’s attack but to the way both tori and uke should act during the execution of the technique; this by itself is an interesting notion because most aikido teachers tend to differentiate between the two roles (hence the names “tori” and “uke”). For Tissier, both parts should be constantly aware of the situation and if they would detect an opening, they would try to cancel, equalize or limit each other’s actions thus creating more realistic and, in the end more honest and strong techniques. Demonstrating these concepts while teaching was particularly interesting and it was obvious that many seminar attendees hadn’t thought of aikido this way, “trapped” so to speak to the idea that when “A attacks this way, B should act that way”.

Ranks and their true meaning

This constant awareness is probably what allows Tissier sensei emit this aura of complete ease I mentioned above; on the other hand this isn’t something gained on the tatami alone –it has to be complemented by work done on a personal level outside (but in parallel to) the martial art. And talking with Christian Tissier later it became obvious that this is someone who has worked extensively with himself and has created a well-rounded and soundly structured thought. For example, when we mentioned some of his accomplishments (his ranks, the recent commendation from the Japanese MOFA etc.) we didn’t notice even the slightest smugness in his reaction: “I was surprised with that” he said “But I think it is important –not for me but for everybody practicing aikido, especially outside Japan. You know, when I started doing aikido, I had never thought that there would be a day that I would get a black belt, then a second dan, then a third etc. –the idea that there would come a time when foreigners could become 6th and 7th dan shihan was outside even the sphere of fantasy!”

“The true meaning and importance of ranks was first brought home to me by my first teacher and then by the second Doshu, Ueshiba Kisshomaru”, he continued “when I got my 2nd dan and later when I got my 6th and my 7th, they both reminded me that this was important because grades are accompanied by responsibilities –when a person graded in aikido acts, people perceive these actions as representing the world of aikido itself; in essence when you act, aikido acts! And while when I got my 2nd dan I was too young to understand that, with time it became obvious”. This sense of responsibility was prevalent in his reply to our question about what he believes is (or could be) a main problem in aikido; for Christian Tissier is “bad people” especially for those being on the teacher’s side: “People can get carried away by the authority and the power that accompanies the role of the teacher and their personal accomplishments in the art”, he said “And even though one’s accomplishments might be worthwhile, they still have to respect the student’s personality. The power plays and the abuse of the teacher’s position is one of the things that might harm aikido and we must be constantly aware of these situations”.

As our conversation was coming to its close, I remembered my colleague’s question: “Why do you think you are so popular?” was the last thing I asked Tissier sensei understanding very well that for someone with his character this question would probably sound impolite. Still, without missing a beat he came up with probably the best answer I can think of: “Well, you understand this isn’t something I can say for myself”, he said smiling “And this is true for all people –we are liked by some and disliked by others. But yes, judging from the reception I get when I travel and teach I might indeed be well receive. Maybe because I make people dream: I took up a discipline 50 years ago, I never stopped working on it and this work allowed me to create something and to receive some recognition for what I created. So people know that it is possible after all!”

We greeted sensei and the people from the Aikikai who helped us do our job, exited the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center, ended up in a small café near the Sangubashi station and while drinking coffee (or, in my case, tea) I asked my colleague if he got his answer about Christian Tissier –he just smiled and nodded.

Related article:International Aikido Federation’s 11th International Aikido Congress: Fukakusa Motohiro’ class

About the author

Grigoris Miliaresis has been practicing Japanese martial arts since 1986. He has dan grades in judo, aikido and iaido and has translated in Greek over 30 martial arts’ books including Jigoro Kano’s “Kodokan Judo”, Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life-Giving Sword”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings”, Takuan Shoho’s “The Unfettered Mind” and Donn Draeger’s “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan” trilogy. Since 2007 his practice has been exclusively in classic schools: Toda-ha Buko-ryu under Ellis Amdur in Greece and Kent Sorensen in Japan and, since 2016, Ono-ha Itto-ryu under 18th headmaster, Yabuki Yuji.
http://about.me/grigorismiliaresis

It can be argued that what differentiates Aikido from its ancestor, Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu, are less to do with technique than philosophy. Most notably, Aikido has universalist aspirations, which are most likely the fruit of the influence of Deguchi Onisaburo on Ueshiba Morihei. Since its establishment in 1948, the Aikikai Foundation has been extremely proactive in following through with this ideal, promoting the message and technical curriculum of Aikido through a variety of media, both domestically and abroad. This led to the incredible success of Aikido’s implantation around the world. Under Ueshiba Kisshomaru, the Hombu Dojo opened its doors to non-Japanese for the first time. In 1955, it hosted a Frenchman, Mr André Nocquet, as its first foreign uchi deshi. Obviously, Nocquet proved to be a major asset for the development of Aikido in France when he returned home after three years, but a little known fact is that he also contributed substantially to the promotion of Aikido within Japan. In this series of articles, I would like to introduce André Nocquet to the Japanese readers and to present some exclusive documents from his personal archives, of which I recently became the caretaker.

André Nocquet at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo (1956)

Youth in France and discovery of martial arts

André Nocquet was born in the West of France on July 30th, 1914 in a farmers’ family. He had a passion for physical activity and began martial arts with Greco-Roman wrestling, followed in 1929 by a little-known self defense technique called “ju-jutsu” while he attended the National School of Non-Commissioned Officers.

House of the Nocquet family in Prahec

After graduating from the famous Desbonnet school in Paris as a gymnastics instructor and physiotherapist, he began to make frequent trips to Paris to study Ju-jutsu under the direction of Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais, the founder of the “Jiu-jitsu Club de France” from 1937. He also became the 17th student of Judo pioneer Kawaishi Mikonosuke in 1938.

André Nocquet in his thirties

The war years

Nocquet fought during World War II in anti-aircraft artillery but he was taken prisoner at the end of the battle of Dunkirk on June 4th, 1940. He managed to escape on October 11th, 1943 and joined the French Forces of the Resistance. After the war, he received the Escapees’ Medal and the Combatant’s Cross for his bravery.
Post-war practice and discovery of Aikido

After the war, Nocquet resumed his professional activities in Angoulême. On September 12th 1945, he became Kawaishi’s 56th Judo black belt and also received a self-defense certificate from him. Nocquet created the first Judo club in his region and he also taught Judo and Ju-jutsu to the Bordeaux police.

In 1949, Kawaishi invited Mochizuki Minoru to give an Aikido demonstration, which he had studied under Ueshiba Morihei. The circularity, elegance, and refinement of Aikido techniques made a strong impression on Nocquet and he enrolled as a student of Mochizuki on the spot. He studied with great dedication until Mochizuki left France in 1952.

Demonstration performed by Kawaishi Mikonosuke, Awazu Shozo, Mochizuki Minoru, and André Nocquet during the first edition of the European Judo Championship (1951)

 

The charge of coordinating Aikido in continental Europe was then assigned to Abe Tadashi Sensei. His Aikido seemed even more impressive to Nocquet, albeit more violent. Abe promoted him to the rank of 1st Dan in 1954. Nocquet, now also a 4th Dan in Judo, founded clubs in the cities of Bordeaux and Biarritz and trained over 200 Judo black belts. Impressed by his enthusiasm and ability, Abe Sensei advised Nocquet to travel to Japan to learn Aikido directly from O Sensei.

This came to fruition when Nocquet was asked by the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs to travel to Japan in order to strengthen the bilateral relations established by the Franco-Japanese Cultural Agreement. Nocquet’s mission would be to study Aikido as the first foreign student to live at the home of the founder, Ueshiba Morihei, as well as Japanese physical therapy methods such as shiatsu and seitai-jutsu.

Departure for Japan

Nocquet arrived in Japan in August 1955 and was welcomed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Matsuo Kuninosuke, who had lived in France for many years and now worked as the deputy editor of the Yomiuri newspaper. Nocquet did not speak any Japanese, but he had a decent command of English and was able to count on the support of His Excellency Sato Naotake from the United Nation Society, and French-speaking philosopher Tsuda Itsuo as his interpreter during his stay. Nocquet was surprised to learn that his hosts had never heard about Aikido, which was understandable since until recently, O Sensei had only taught to a small number of students from the upper classes of Japanese society.

The daily routine at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo

Andre Nocquet and O Sensei

André Nocquet was taken to the Hombu Dojo in Ushigome, where he would live with fellow uchi deshi Tamura Nobuyoshi and Noro Masamichi under the care of Ueshiba Kisshomaru and his wife, Sakuko. Living and training conditions were very difficult for him and he found sleeping on the floor of the small three-tatami room quite difficult. He also contracted giant urticaria in response to the unusual diet. The study of his diary suggests that he might also have felt lonely. Indeed, on top of being the only foreigner, at age 40, he was also older than most people at Hombu, including Ueshiba Kisshomaru himself.

André Nocquet with Ueshiba Sakuko (left) and Sunadomari Fukiko (right)

The uchi deshi trained every day for about 5 hours, along with 20 or so other regular students. Every day the same routine applied, Nocquet woke up at 5:00 and started cleaning the dojo for an hour. The first training started at 6:15, usually led by then Dojo-cho Ueshiba Kisshomaru, followed by a half an hour break before the second morning class. Breakfast was followed by free practice until lunch time. The dojo was usually used after lunch for free practice.

Nocquet with fellow deshi Nishiuchi and Kobayashi (right)

While Mochizuki Sensei and Abe Sensei took a very systematic and pedagogical approach to teaching, at Hombu, he was told to repeat the same movement over and over again, without explanation, until exhaustion. Isoyama Hiroshi Shihan told me that Nocquet’s techniques needed a lot of improvement but that he worked very hard under the guidance of Ueshiba Kisshomaru.

Ueshiba Morihei and Andre Nocquet in Iwama

A few other foreigners, mostly Americans, sometimes came to classes at the Hombu Dojo but none lived in the dojo. I was able to find pictures of the dojo’s nafudakake in Nocquet’s archives and it gives a good idea of the number of foreigners who were registered as black belts worldwide at the time.

The nafudakake of the Hombu Dojo

At 4 pm, the formal training resumed under the direction of instructors such as Tohei Koichi, Okumura Shigenobu, Osawa Kisaburo or Tada Hiroshi. The class was followed by a 30 minutes pause and one more hour of practice.

André Nocquet at the Hombu Dojo

Reports on Tohei Koichi’s classes constitute the largest number of entries in Nocquet’s diary. In the absence of Tsuda, it is likely that Tohei Sensei was one of the only people at Hombu who could communicate with Nocquet, so his influence was very strong.

Nocquet with Tohei Koichi at the Hombu Dojo (kindly given to me by Kobayashi Yasuo Shihan)

According to Okumura Shigenobu, the arrival of Nocquet marked a media upturn in the dojo by domestic and international journalists. Nocquet wrote several articles about Judo and Aikido in Japanese newspapers.

Article written by André Nocquet for the Yomiuri Shinbun (kindly given to me by Tada Hiroshi Shihan)

Nocquet’s contacts in the foreign political institutions were also put to use to help set up official events to introduce Aikido to the foreign dignitaries present in Japan. On September 28 1955, he gave his first conference on the spiritual aspects of Aikido to cultural representatives of several embassies at the Hombu Dojo. The Department of Culture and Information of the French Embassy subsequently sponsored an event that took place at the Hombu Dojo on September 25, 1956 in the presence of the press and representatives of foreign embassies. During this event, O Sensei gave a lecture on the spiritual ideals of Aikido, followed by a demonstration, to which Nocquet took part. The event was a great success and its reach went well beyond Japan.

Yomiuri newspaper article about André Nocquet (kindly given to me by Tada Hiroshi Shihan)

Nocquet spoke a number of times to foreign journalists and politicians, including a speech that he gave on Remembrance Day on the 11th of November 1956, which is transcribed in his diary. Nocquet was already in Japan when the first public Aikido demonstration took place on the roof of the Takashimaya Department Store in September 1955, but the extent of his involvement is uncertain. He did take part in a subsequent demonstration that was organised by the Yomiuri newspaper on the roof of the Toyoko department store in Shibuya.

Demonstration on the roof of the Toyoko department store in Shibuya. The photo is dedicated by Nocquet to Kobayashi Yasuo. (photo kindly given to me by Kobayashi Yasuo Shihan)

In an entry in his personal journal dated from November 20th, 1956, Nocquet lays out the plans for a promotional film. This was to be shot on a sunny Spring Sunday in the garden of the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo using color cinema-scope 16mm film. He describes shots of O Sensei and sequences of group practice, as well as a more dream-like sequence inspired by zen.

Excerpt from Nocquet’s journal describing the film project

I found some excerpts that fit this description in Nocquet’s black and white 8 mm film archives. I showed them to Tada Hiroshi Shihan, who confirmed to me that they were shot in Chinzanso. This would place the shooting in Spring 1957 but it is unclear whether the project ever got finished and released.

Some excerpts from the video shot at Chinzanso

Other martial experiences and official recognition

In his spare time, Nocquet studied self-defense with Tomiki Kenji Sensei. He was also taken to the Tempukai by Tohei Koichi on several occasions to train under Nakamura Tempu. In his journal, Nocquet also mentions training in Kempo under someone named Savoy. Browsing in Nocquet’s archives, I found pictures of him training under the direction of Takimoto Tekko, the founder of Takimoto-ha Fusen-ryu jujutsu.

André Nocquet with Takimoto Tekko and his students

Nocquet also used to say that even though he had begun studying Kyokushin Karate with Oyama Masutatsu Sensei, including some ascetic training in the mountains, he was soon reminded by O Sensei that he had come to focus on Aikido, and therefore he stopped it.

Nocquet, whose mission was also to study traditional Japanese healing, participated in at least one intensive Shiatsu seminar in Tokyo in winter 1955 with Namikoshi Tokujiro, the president of the International School of Shiatsu, who awarded him certificates of beginner and intermediate levels. He also studied with Nishi Katsuzo, the founder of the Nishi Health System, who was also an instructor at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo and whose kingyo undo is still widely practiced during Aikido warm-ups.

André Nocquet at the Hombu Dojo with Ueshiba Morihei and Namikoshi Tokujiro (right)

In 1957, before his return to France, Nocquet was awarded the title of Shidoin by Ueshiba Kisshomaru and he also received a diploma in self-defense from Tomiki Kenji.

Nocquet’s Shidoin certificate

Departure from Japan and return to France

Nocquet left the port of Yokohama in October 1957. He stopped in the United States of America and taught Aikido to the Fresno Police Department and subsequently received a Diploma from the National Exchange Club of the United States on February 11th, 1958. Nocquet’s student Mr Robert Cornman contacted the Fresno Police Department on my behalf but unfortunately, no evidence remains of Nocquet’s time there so the circumstances under which he taught there. Nocquet eventually returned to France during the summer of 1958.

Nocquet’s departure from Japan from the port of Yokohama

He was asked to write an extensive report for the Ministry of Education putting in parallel what he had learned in Japan with traditional European martial techniques developed since the 15th century but unfortunately, I could not find any trace of this report.

Promotion of Aikido in Europe

Nocquet was promoted to 4th Dan by Abe Tadashi on December 10th, 1959. On May 20th 1960, before Abe left France, he appointed Nocquet as his successor in his functions for the development of Aikido in Europe.

Letter by Abe Tadashi, dated 20th May 1960, introducing Nocquet as his successor in charge of Aikido in Europe

Later, Nocquet was asked by Ueshiba Kisshomaru to welcome the arrival in France his training partners Noro Masamichi and Nakazono Mutsuro in 1961, and Tamura Nobuyoshi in 1964. Unfortunately, the presence of several high-level instructors exacerbated tensions within an already heterogeneous community of Aikidoka, which led to divisions that still exist today.

Letter from Ueshiba Kisshomaru to Nocquet, dated 14 July 1961, informing him of the arrival of Noro Masamichi to Europe

Nocquet taught most of the current senior Aikido through seminars, demonstrations and lectures throughout Europe. He also taught soldiers from the National Paratrooper Union and officers from the National Police. He partnered with Mochizuki Hiroo (the son of Mochizuki Minoru) and Nobuyoshi Tamura in 1973 on the formalization of an Aikido curriculum, which is still in place today. He also helped establish a state-recognized diploma of Aikido instructor. He sets up the European Union of Aikido in 1975.

From 1975, Nocquet began writing his first book on Aikido, followed by two others. Nocquet gave the proceeds from his later book “Zen Et Aiki Ne Font Qu’Un” to the relief efforts for the victims of the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake. He gave a number of TV and radio interviews to promote Aikido.

André Nocquet’s books

Nocquet received the title of Knight of the National Order of Merit on July 10, 1982 and was made ​​a Knight of the Legion of Honor April 2, 1994. He was promoted by his federation to the 8th Dan Aikido in 1985 and returned to Japan in 1990 for the first time in 33 years to present Aikido Doshu Ueshiba Kisshomaru with a gold medal from the French Ministry of Sports.

André Nocquet with Ueshiba Kisshomaru at the French Embassy in Tokyo

André Nocquet passed away on March 12, 1999 at the age of 84 and he was buried in Prahecq, his hometown.

Nocquet’s grave in Prahec

In the next article, I will describe some of the documents from Nocquet Sensei’s archives that were placed under my care. I would like to dedicate this article to the memory of Mr Frank de Craene. Frank was a very close student of Nocquet and the caretaker of his archives. Some time before his passing, he entrusted me with the task of continuing his work with analyzing these materials and bringing them to the world. I hope to be worthy of his trust. May he rest in peace.


About the author

Guillaume Erard is a permanent resident of Japan. He trains at the Aikikai Headquarters in Tokyo, where he received the 5th Dan from Aikido Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. Guillaume regularly gives Aikido seminars throughout Europe as well as lectures on its history. He studied with some of the world’s leading Aikido instructors, including several direct students of O Sensei, and has produced a number of well regarded video interviews with them. Guillaume also holds the title of Kyoshi in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu and serves as Deputy Secretary for International Affairs of the Shikoku Headquarters. He is passionate about science and education, and holds a PhD in Molecular Biology. Guillaume’s work can be accessed through his website.

Meibukan’s Goju-ryu seminar in Tokyo

Text by Grigoris A.Miliaresis

It’s not by chance that out of the last six articles I have written for “Hiden” three were about karate: as I wrote in the introduction of one of those articles, the inclusion of karate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has brought the art to the front and center of almost all martial arts discussions in Japan and have helped even the most arcane, provincial sub-styles of Okinawa to rise to the surface and the main styles to establish their position even more. This article also follows this trend although it’s the most koryu-esque of the four: it’s about a style that takes pride in the fact that it doesn’t have any connection with the competition karate that has become part of the Olympics and about its soke, a 75-year old who has been practicing karate for 70 years.

The soke is Meitatsu Yagi (b. 1944), son of Meitoku Yagi (1912-2003), a student of legendary Goju-ryu founder and one of the Meiji Period’s great teachers who shaped karate in the form we know it today, Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953). Meitoku Yagi studied under Chojun Miyagi from the time he was 15 until the latter’s death and then opened his dojo, the Meibukan where he kept teaching until his death at the age of 92. Meitatsu Yagi, started learning karate from his father when he was 5 years old and in the course of the next 50 years, learned the whole curriculum of Meibukan’s Goju-ryu, both as transmitted by Chojun Migyagi and as developed by his father. He has traveled the world extensively even living for a few years in the US, has written books and has done a lot of work to keep karate alive in his native Okinawa as well.

The seminar of course Meitatsu Yagi also teaches in Japan: his organization, the International Meibukan Goju-ryu Karate-do Organization has five dojo in Japan, two of which are in Tokyo and one headed by Meitatsu Yagi’s elder son, 8th dan kyoshi Akihito Yagi. It was during a seminar in Tokyo, actually held to commemorate the opening of the Meibukan’s Tokyo branch, at the well known to martial arts’ practitioners Chuo Sports Center in Hamacho that we had the chance to meet Meitatsu Yagi soke and his son Akihito Yagi kyoshi, sit down with them for an interview (you can read some of its highlights below, in a separate section of this article and watch the video online in XXX) and see how they teach their special brand of Goju-ryu and how they preserve the legacy of Chojun Miyagi in the 21st century.

There were about 45 students participating in the seminar; about one third of them were children and this is always a good sign, demonstrating that the art is passing down to another generation, now the fifth since the time of its founder. The first part which was very exciting, especially for someone like this writer, not very well versed in the history of karate in general and of Goju-ryu in particular, consisted of a brief lecture by Yagi soke on the beginnings of the style, the time of Chojun Miyagi, how Goju-ryu took its name and how his father, started practicing under the founder and ended up becoming the student closest to him -to the extent that when Miyagi died, his family gave Meitoku Yagi his practice uniform and his belt!

Bubishi:The Bible of karate

Incidentally, and this was even more fascinating for me since I was fortunate enough to have studied the book thoroughly 15 years ago, when I translated it in Greek, the name “Goju-ryu” comes from what many consider “the Bible of karate”, “Bubishi”. Originally a Chinese military manual, one of its incarnations contains (among many, many other things) information about Shaolin White Crane boxing and when it was brought to Okinawa, it was used by local teachers as a resource for the creation for karate. In one of its chapters, the “Eight Poems of Boxing” there is the line “Hou Goju Donto” which could be translated as “depending on the situation the body changes between hard and soft through inhaling and exhaling”. Meibukan’s interpretation of the saying is that inhaling and exhaling is both hard and soft -just for the record, the English translation by Patrick McCarthy, published by Tuttle which we used for the Greek translation was “Inhaling represents softness while exhaling characterizes hardness”. When, in the 1920s, Chojun Miyagi wanted to present his art in the Japanese mainland, he chose this “goju” i.e. “hard and soft” as an appropriate name for it and every martial arts practitioner will agree that the concept it expresses is one of the most important in any art!

After Meitatsu Yagi sensei’s fascinating account, it was time for action to follow theory! Participants stood in lines and guided by Akihito Yagi sensei, performed a series the punching, kicking and blocking kihon waza (basic techniques) that are the building blocks of Goju-ryu; contrary to what one sees in other karate styles, the stances were narrow and more upright and the movements were closer to natural walking. Of course there were deep stances like shikko dachi –I doubt there’s any style of karate that doesn’t have them because of their stability, especially when blocking- but for the most part the body was organized in a very natural and not at all over-elaborated way, which brings to mind pictures of Okinawan karate masters from the late Meiji and Taisho periods.

Kote-gitae and kake-te

The kihon waza gave their place to two partner exercises that are characteristic of Goju-ryu and the Meibukan’s teachings: they are kote-gitae and kake-te. In the first, the two practitioners stand facing each other and exchange high and low forearm blocks while at the same time moving and exchanging positions -with time the blocks (which can be also hits, of course) become faster and stronger and the practitioners need to be more focused since the rapid exchange must not be interrupted even when they exchanging positions passing back-to-back (yes, I know this movement is hard to understand -check the pictures!) This exercise is an example of the “tanren” or “forging” of the body that has given traditional karate practitioners the reputation for being able to withstand any hit.

If the kote-gitae expresses the “go”, the hard side of Goju-ryu, the keke-te expresses the “ju”, the pliant. In it, partners stand once again opposite each other and try to control each other’s arm and hand movement in a circular way. The point of contact between the two hands is the lower edge of the palm i.e. the area opposite the thumb, used for shuto/knife-hand strikes. In a way the exercise brings to mind the push-hands exercise or tuishou although the way performed by the Meibukan members was much more intense and demanded considerably more strength; I tried it against one of the advanced students of the Tokyo dojo and even though I haven’t found my arms and hands lacking in strength it was really hard to keep up during the whole range of motion.

The Sanchin kata

Following the kake-te was what is perhaps the most recognizable part of the Goju-ryu curriculum, the Sanchin kata. Contrary to the popular image of kata where practitioners exchange rapid strikes, blocks and kicks, the Sanchin is much more esoteric with slow movements, audible breathing and visible tightening and relaxing of the body muscles. And I say “visible” because before the whole group started practicing it, the more advanced students took off the top of their keikogi and performed it naked from the waist up while Meitatsu Yagi sensei moved around slamming various parts of their bodies with open hands. This is the traditional way of performing and testing the kata and allows the teacher to gauge each student’s level of understanding of breathing and use of muscles. Even though it’s the least “spectacular” aspect of the practice, to me it was both an amazing exhibition of body control and a very interesting way to research what the body can do.

Yakusoku kumite

The next part was probably what even non-martial arts people would immediately recognize as “karate”: the partnered exchanges of attacks, blocks and counter-attacks called “kumite” which, in Meibukan’s system are only “yakusoku”, that is, pre-arranged. According to the Meibukan history, these twelve kata (because they are kata!) come from Chojun Miyagi himself and cover a wide range of attack and defense possibilities; seeing them performed by Akihito Yagi sensei and one of the Meibukan advanced students as a model before the whole class tried them was an education, and it made clear how effective the school’s karate can be and how broad their repertory of techniques and strategies is including throws, counter-attacks from kneeling position, kicks in joints, arm-length grappling, aikido-like body-movement evasions and more. And even though the participants had performed everything so far very seriously, you could tell that they enjoyed this part of the seminar even more!

The seminar ended with the participants standing in a circle and performing various kihon waza in ten-repetition sets; they all, beginners, advanced, young and old took turns in counting out loud the repetitions and that gave an air of solidarity even to us outside observers. Then came the time for pictures, small talk and friendly chat and the room cleared to be prepared for the next group of martial artists -the group using it before the Meibukan seminar was kendo but I didn’t stay to see what would follow. And it didn’t matter: spaces like that of the Chuo Sports Center are home to so many groups that they don’t even feel like dojo, especially when the art practiced is as sui generis as the Meibukan’s. I haven’t been to the honbu dojo in Okinawa’s Naha, but I’m sure it’s much smaller, warmer and with more personality -like all small-town dojo (compared to Tokyo’s millions, Naha with its 320.000 people is a small town).

A world where there’s no free-sparring

Still, Meitatsu Yagi sensei carries with him over a century of history and almost a century of practice and this manages to transform even in a faceless space like that of the Center. For three hours we were transferred to a world where there’s no free-sparring because “free-sparring is sport and karate is not a sport but self defense”, where “kata” doesn’t mean snapping keikogi sleeves and Kabuki-like stares and where 75-olds have arms, abs and thighs that would make your palms hurt if you slapped them. This isn’t like any karate I’ve seen so far and it certainly isn’t like any karate we will see at the Budokan in next year’s Olympic Games but it’s a karate that builds fascia and ki and character and people who you’d want to have on your side in a fight against anyone. I’ve often said that I started my martial arts’ involvement with karate -I probably won’t end it with karate but if I was too, the Goju-ryu of the Yagi family would probably be my choice.


About the author

Grigoris Miliaresis has been practicing Japanese martial arts since 1986. He has dan grades in judo, aikido and iaido and has translated in Greek over 30 martial arts’ books including Jigoro Kano’s “Kodokan Judo”, Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life-Giving Sword”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings”, Takuan Shoho’s “The Unfettered Mind” and Donn Draeger’s “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan” trilogy. Since 2007 his practice has been exclusively in classic schools: Toda-ha Buko-ryu under Ellis Amdur in Greece and Kent Sorensen in Japan and, since 2016, Ono-ha Itto-ryu under 18th headmaster, Yabuki Yuji.
http://about.me/grigorismiliaresis

A Method of Training the Body and Mind in the Inner Mysteries of Martial Arts:Story about Keikogi,training uniform.

text by Eric Shahan

This is an excerpt from a book called心身修養武術極意胆練法 A Method of Training the Body and Mind in the Inner Mysteries of Martial Arts by Morino Yukio 森野雪男. It was published in 1916 and is the first instruction manual that shows how to make your own Keikogi, training uniform.

Notes and Cautions Regarding the Keiko-gi, Training Gear

 

The Keiko-gi consists of three parts the Uwagi (top,) Shita Haki (pants) and the Obi (belt.)

 

Recently there is a trend towards Keiko-gi with shorter sleeves, however I don’t recommend that type. While they are very convenient for training, they tend to encourage bad posture and makes witnessing such training painful.

The Uwagi should be white cotton short-sleeved shirt sewn on top of a straight-sleeved Juban undershirt. Attach these by sewing horizontal rows of fine stitching with white thread. When making this ensure that the overall length as well as the sleeves are long enough.   Sew the sleeves so they extend 2 Sun (6 centimeters) past the elbows.

Every part of the Keiko-gi has a name, see the illustrations on the following pages.

Translator’s note: This excerpt details how a Keiko-gi (now commonly referred to as a “Gi”) should be constructed and the reasoning behind its design. I thought it was interesting how it’s basically two shirts sewn together and even at this stage, instructors had an eye for consistency in training gear

The upper Keiko-gi is as shown on the previous page. Modern Keiko-gi tend to have sleeves that end above the elbows. Well it is probably more correct to say that is the fashion these days. Part of this is a mercantile desire to save money on fabric, however those who train in Jujutsu regularly like the short sleeves because the first four fingers of each hand can easily slide into the sleeve and grip.

Since this is an advantage when applying techniques or defending, short sleeves have become popular. However, there is a significant downside to this fad. While practitioners who have trained extensively can grip anywhere on any type of clothing a beginner will have a great deal of difficulty adapting their grip to different types of clothing

 

For Jujutsu it doesn’t matter what clothing an opponent wears, or if he is completely naked. Jujutsu principles are applied in the same way. However, in order for you to learn how to apply Jujutsu against an opponent wearing any sort of clothing you must learn how to apply techniques effectively, therefore your Keiko-gi should be made in a standard fashion.

It is my opinion that even small adjustments should be avoided in favor of a Keiko-gi with long sleeves. The sleeves should extend 2 or 3 Sun (6 ~7 cm) below the elbow, with the sleeve opening large enough to allow a person’s fist to pass through.


Eric Shahan has been living in Japan for 17 years and has translated over 30 books on Japanese martial arts, Ninjutsu and Edo Era fiction.  Some recent works include Twelve Rules of the Sword, The Tattooed Arm and The Hundred Rules of War.  His independently published works can be found on his Amazon Author’s Page.